TORONTO — Sometimes Mackenzie Hughes allows himself to imagine what it would be like to win the RBC Canadian Open. The cheers as he walked up the 18th fairway, the roar when he sank the final putt, the weight of the trophy as he lifted it.
No Canadian has won the men's national golf championship since Pat Fletcher accomplished the feat in 1954 at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club. Hughes, from Dundas, Ont., is one of 19 Canadians in the field at this year's Canadian Open who hopes to end that nearly 70-year drought.
"That would be amazing. To be the guy, obviously, I'd be a bit of a Canadian hero to do that," said Hughes with a smile on Wednesday. "I just picture coming down those last few holes and the way the crowd is loud and the energy behind me would be incredible.
"So I have let myself get to that point and think about those things. Like I said, it would be amazing."
Hughes is one of four Canadians tightly packed atop the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup rankings after he won the Sanderson Farms Championship on Oct. 2. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is No. 27. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., and Hughes are Nos. 32-34, respectively.
"I know every one of the (Canadians) in the field this week feels the same way," said Hughes at Oakdale Golf and Country Club. "They want to be that guy.
"So if it's not me I hope it's one of them. But I'll be trying to be that guy."
Conners, who is the highest ranked Canadian on the PGA Tour this season and on the official world golf rankings, agreed with Hughes.
"It would really be a dream come true," said Conners, who won the Valero Texas Open for the second time on April 2. "Growing up as a junior golfer in Listowel, I dreamed of winning the Canadian Open.
"It's certainly not easy to do, but I'm excited to be teeing it up and feeling good about my game. It would certainly mean a lot to me personally."
Conners, Taylor, Svensson and Hughes are far from Canada's only hopes to finally bring the national title home.
Fellow PGA Tour members Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., are also in the field.
Canadian golf icon and President’s Cup International Team captain Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., will be competing in his 31st Canadian Open.
Johnny Travale of Stoney Creek, Ont., Vancouver's Stuart Macdonald, PGA Tour veteran David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Edmonton's Wil Bateman are also playing.
Taylor Durham of North Vancouver, B.C., Toronto's Daniel Kim of and Toronto's Sebastian Szirmak earned their way in through regional qualifiers.
Three of the four best men's Canadian golfers outside of the PGA Tour are also in the field.
Myles Creighton of Digby, N.S., who leads the Latinoamerica Tour after winning the Inter Rapidisimo Golf Championship in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday, will tee it up on Thursday. As will Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., who sits third in the Korn Ferry Tour's points list, and Aaron Cockerill of Stony Mountain, Man., who is on the Europe-based DP World Tour.
Calgary's Stephen Ames, who is atop the Champions Tour standings after three wins this season, is one of the few Canadians missing out.
"I can't even imagine would it would be like to win," said Cockerill, who is 31st on the DP World Tour and the highest-ranked Canadian in the world rankings outside the PGA Tour at No. 211. "It would be a lot of fun afterwards.
"We had a few buddies come out, my family's here, so that would be too much fun probably."
Smoky conditions from wildfires in Quebec and Ontario could derail Canada's hopes of bringing the national title home.
After Major League Baseball and the WNBA postponed games on Wednesday due to poor air quality in the New York City area, a spokesman for the PGA Tour said that an air quality index of 300 could potentially delay the tournament.
Much like a weather delay due to lightning, officials will monitor air quality throughout the tournament. If the AQI moves above 300, the tournament's on-site meteorologist would check to see where the clouds of smoke are expected to be in an hour and, based on that prediction, would consider delaying play until the air quality improves.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press